The first comedy club in Saudi Arabia, AlComedy Club — originally named the Jeddah Comedy Club — was established in 2012 in Jeddah by Yaser Baker, a stand-up comedian who, before opening the venue, had no place to hone his craft. Since then, the comedy scene has grown in the kingdom, buoyed by the exposure comedians get on Twitter, YouTube and other social media.
And female comedians are getting in on the act, too. Hatoon Kadi, one of the first female Saudi comics, who has performed at AlComedy Club, launched her career on YouTube with her show Noon AlNiswa. She has said that the biggest hurdle she’s faced as a female comedian is the same one encountered by female comedians around the world: the belief that women aren’t funny. Meanwhile, her show, which features “Noon AlNiswa,” now has more than 300,000 subscribers!
It’s hard to explain why stand-up comedy has become popular, but many people point to the “youth bulge” — 60 percent of the population is under 30. They have access to the internet, and can use it to build an audience. They can also hone their craft by watching comedians from around the world on platforms like YouTube.
But Saudis are also known to be natural storytellers, so observational comedy, despite being a recent phenomenon, has not been a stretch. Social satire and self-effacing humor are popular, too, says Ammar Abdulghaffar, the marketing and sales manager of AlComedy Club, who cites recent headliner Talal Al Shaikhi as one of his favorite comedians. “Al Shaikhi does a bit about the traditions in Ramadan in an edgy, yet inoffensive way,” he says.
“Most of the popular comedians from the current generation have performed in the club,” says Abdulghaffar, including three of the four stars of the popular Saudi movie Shams al-Maaref, one of whom is a regular. Although AlComedy is a one-off for the time being, there are plans to open AlComedy Clubs across the kingdom, and to add programming in English (right now, all stand-up is performed in Arabic, as are sketches and improv).
In 2018, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud allowed theaters in the kingdom, and the government has promised to invest $64 billion in the entertainment sector in the next decade (in addition to theaters and comedy clubs, there are plans to build an opera house), so you can be sure that the comedy scene will only continue to gain traction.
But for now, look to YouTube and Netflix (whose series Comedians of the World features two Saudi comedians) to find the funny in Saudi if you can’t make it to Jeddah.
There’s much more to do than laugh! Saudi summers are great for sightseeing, outdoor adventures, sampling local fare and open-air shopping, too. Learn more.
— By Didi Gluck